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Lack of resources hampering efforts of Jamaica Society for the Blind

BY RACQUEL PORTER
Observer staff reporter
porterr@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, October 12, 2018

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AS the world observed World Sight Day yesterday, Jamaica Society for the Blind (JSB) Executive Director Conrad Harris pointed out that his organisation, due to a lack of resources, is unable to cater to the approximately 29,000 blind and visually impaired people in Jamaica.

“We here are not in a position to reach those persons.We don't have the staff, and we don't have the facilities here to reach those persons,” Harris said. “We need to do much more in order to be able to reach the persons who are blind.”

He was speaking to the Jamaica Observer yesterday just ahead of the launch of World Sight Day, a global event observed annually on the second Thursday of October to raise awareness about blindness and vision impairment, at the Old Hope Road institution.

The day was launched under the theme: “Eyecare for Everyone Everywhere.”

JSB, a non-government organisation, provides a number of services to the visually impaired community. One of its key services that has been hampered as a result of the lack of resources is the adjustment to blindness programme, which includes the provision of counselling aimed at helping people adjust to sight loss.

“Through the adjustment to blindness service, we go into the homes of the persons who are blind and find out what their challenges are. Based on what they say, we provide training in skills that will help them overcome those challenges,” Harris explained. “For example, if the person is having a challenge getting around, we teach them how to use the white cane and how to travel around their community on the bus. If they are having problems performing their daily household chores, we might have to teach them different methods such as sweeping, ironing, cooking… we don't have the staff [for that].”

The executive director said, too, that due to the financial and staffing limitations, JSB only has adjustment-to-blindness officers in Kingston and St Andrew and St Catherine.

While it intensifies its search to obtain an officer to fill a recent vacancy in St James, he said the other parishes will remain without officers.

However, despite the challenges, Harris said Jamaica Society for the Blind is trying its best to function with the limited resources.

“We operate a vision centre where we do screening for vision problems; we provide glasses; and we see persons who have general vision problems. Where we can't treat them with glasses, we refer.

“We have an ophthalmologist, optometrist and refractionist that work with us, so that's one of the services we offer,” he continued. “Through the vision centre, we do screening in schools, in communities... so we actually go out. We provide information technology training to persons who are blind and need to use computers or need to use their smartphones.

“We have a Braille and audio library, and we use the postal service to mail books to persons anywhere in Jamaica who need books, both Braille and audio,” he continued.

Additionally, Harris said JSB partners with HEART Trust/NTA to offer a variety of courses.

“We are finishing up a customer service course for some of our members now, and we are also doing an English class for persons who are blind and don't have CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate) English,” Harris reasoned.

In May, a teenager, who was touched after observing the professional care given to his cousin, who participated in the JSB's adjustment to blindness programme, held a Skeet tournament to raise funds for the society.

At that time, Danzell Knight, 17, told the Observer that he had to reward the kindness meted out to his relative.

“He lives in The Bahamas and he came here for help. So when I see him come here and, free of cost, he is almost like accepted in a different family... I view this place as sort of family, in a sense like how you would want to help family,” Knight said then

Knight, who is also a junior skeet champion, donated $793,134.58 to the 64-year-old institution, which was raised from the tournament.

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